About 3 months before I was to ship out from the Nam, we were herded into the base movie hall and given briefings on going home.

Some of it was the expected conduct when you got back to the world, like when your on leave, don't pinch your sister in the ass when ever you pass in the hall, don't scratch your balls in public or when your at home at the dinner table don't say "ha ma, pass the fuckin potatoes".  There were also briefings on shipping your stuff home, what you could send and then the best part.... your dream sheet.  You were given three choices in order of preference.  I chose Hamilton AFB (CA), Lowry AFB (CO) and McGuire AFB (NJ).

My choices were simple, I had old friends at Hamilton and I really liked the place AND the food.  Lowry AFB because I planned on settling in Denver when I got out anyway and McGuire because it was just 40 minutes from the Lakewood DZ (Not to mention the possibility of free jumps with the Fort Dix club near-by).  My orders came in a month later... HAMILTON AFB!   YESssssssssssss!

I shipped my trunk of stuff via the base whole baggage office but the trunk got quite wet on the ship and most of the books in the bottom of the trunk had the pages stuck together.  My full rig, suit, Frenchies etc. were in a duffel bag and escaped the same fate because they left months earlier after I got grounded.  The twill T-7a reserve stayed in Nam.  I sold it to a Viet Namesse Sgt. at the Club for US$25 after I got grounded.   (It is probably a dress or something by now.  It was camouflage color so who knows where or what it is now). 

Some people today think we jumped sport death gear which is pure rubbish, in many ways it was safer and more reliable than the gear made today but I did have my doubts about twill canopies.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that the canopies in the Martin-Baker ejection seats were 4-color 24' twill canopies!!!  A twill had higher porosity and could take a high speed opening better than rip-stop.

I took the reserve money and ordered a ripstop T-10a reserve from the Chute Shop for $24.95 (or $29.95?) which was a mistake.  For $34.95 I could have gotten a 26' Navy conical which would have done me well for many years as I put on weight.  The 24' ripstop canopy would be used soon though.  It was waiting for me in NJ, packed and ready to jump when I got home.

Sgt. Lyons, aren't you 
impressed all to hell! :-)
I was one of only three left from my original Unit and I was an NCO by then.  Everyone else had already left and the barracks was full of newbies.  We were packed by mid-night and we tried to talk and joke without making too much noise.  The place was so quiet and peaceful with day shift people sleeping.  Little did we know that the exact place where we were sitting would be a battle ground in 5 months and 21 days when these poor guys would be fighting for their lives and suffering a massive attack on the "1200 Area" (which
 was what our contonement area was called) during the 1968 Tet Offensive. No one wanted to sleep.  We shot the shit on the 2nd floor porch and watched the "Fire-Fly" C-123's dropping parachute flares around our compound. 

They reminded me of Christmas Eve when Charles broke the truce and hit out contonement area.  We were 3 hours in a firefight with some lulls.  Half the guys in the barracks were drunk from a party that night and were no help at all, more a danger to us and themselves than Victor Charles.  "Hanoi Hanna" had been bragging that we might as well enjoy the food at our new chow hall (the biggest in Viet Nam at the time) because we we're going to have Christmas dinner in it.  The office line was that we were not hit that night and it was a big mistake.  The "fire-flies" dropped parachute flares the whole time and I could see these guys running around this grave yard just outside our fence that they tried to come through.  The night was full of misunderstandings that night.

An Air Force blue pick-up fetched us at 2:30am to take us to Saigon International Airport.  We put our gear up against the insides of the bed and sat in the middle.  As soon as we left the front gate of the Base we had to laid down in the back, the metal sides and our gear were to protect us from snipers.  When we drove out the gate of the 1200 Area it was like every other Base I left.  A part of me stayed no matter how happy I was to get out of there.  Better the devil you know?

We made the mile run through "ingin country" to the Saigon Internat- ional Airport (part of Ton Son Nhute) without incident and I watched and photographed the sunrise 3 hours later from the terminal.  We swetted every minute of it wondering if "Charles" would lob in the odd "81 mil" and get one of us just hours before we got our butts out and safe.  I remembered when I first got there we were at the CBPO near the airport terminal for about 5 days processing in and they hit us with 19 rounds of mortar every night.  That morning it was quiet which probably worried me more than if there was distant gun fire.  Not 600 yards from this spot I had taken some shrapnel in the back from a mortar round and 300 years in the other direction was the 380th Recon flight line where I had climbed into the aircraft I flew in on photo missions.  The Viet 2nd Airborne Division compound where the Saigon Sport Parachute Club was located on the other side of the hangers and I couldn't see it.  Saigon Airport was the busiest in the world then and I could distract myself watching stuff taxi up and down including Air America Stuff.  I wanted a jump out of their Porters so bad I could taste it!

At 7am a Continental Air Lines DC-8 arrived with more poor GI bastards that would be there for TET.  It was the "Proud Bird with the Golden Tail" color scheme and we were lined up at the fence to watch as the newbies got off.  You could see their instant discomfort from the blast of heat as they walked out of the air conditioned plane.  I remembered that that was me 9 days short of a year earlier when I  walked out the rear door, stood on the stairs for a second for a quick look around and yelled out, "359 more days.... SHORT!!!". 

When the aircraft was refueled we handed a copy of our orders to one dude who checked it against our ID cards and issued a boarding pass.  When we went thru the gate we handed the pass to someone else along with our military passports (which we never saw again). 

Days earlier those last few of us weren't too kind to the new guys as they filled the barracks I was about to leave.  It was a tradition that when you were short you shouted it to the roof tops and I would stop at some newbies' bunk and say "ask me how many 3 more days I have left?".  The answer was "Just one!".  Not too terribly kind now that I think back on it as an older smarter person but I forgive myself, I had survived and I was going home.  All you could think about then was that you were "SHORT"!

After the plane fueled up we boarded, most of us running up the stairs just in case a sniper might decide to take a last shot at us.  I remember yelling as I ran up the stairs, "15 minutes.... SHORT!"  From my seat at the window I could see the flight line of the 380th Recon Sqd. and some EC-121 AWACS planes.  Several months
 before I had been in one when something hit us and a hole about 2' in diameter appeared in the cabin.  The explosive decompression did a nasty job on my sinuses which
where never in great shape anyway.  Even though I had some problems flying a small plane with them, they never bothered me jumping for some reason. 

As I sat there waiting for the doors to close my anxiety level was suddenly higher than if I was jumping, I just wanted to get up and away from that place.  At least there was the relief of the colder air inside the plane and the distractions of stowing your gear, buckling in and listening to the stew give the pre-flight BS about the vests.  90% of the Air Force and Army Aviation guys on board had more time in the air than they did and weren't impressed by the little talk.  I found myself a little uneasy that I was in a seat that I could use to get out and I was flying without a parachute.

For some reason my mind snapped back to a briefing I had the first time I flew a back seat photo mission.  It was a 2-seat job and I was there with three guys from the 600 Photo Sqd. getting training on the ejection seats etc..  The Major finished off by saying, "In the event that this aircraft is no longer serviceable, I will yell EJECT EJECT EJECT! If you are still on board the aircraft the second time I yell EJECT, you are the aircraft commander!"  I found out later it was a standard joke but it got the point across.

Charles took a few pot shots at us a hundred or so yards past the end of the runway and I saw a tracer go by the window.  My eyes never left the window and I was about 2/3rds the way back in the plane on the left window side.  The rows of RF-101's, RF-4C's and a couple of black RB-57's passed by and I could see my "shop" and the 2nd Airborne compound as we climbed.  I watched the base disappear and could see Saigon and the Saigon River.  I spotted an AC-47 well below us, my attention drawn to it by the 3 lines of tracer fire from the Mini-guns.

We moved out past the shore and I looked back till it was gone.  A big part of me was still back there, never to come home and a much different person was in that uniform and sitting in that seat.  I didn't feel bad or guilty about getting out while others had to stay, I had survived and was going home.  Such feelings are reserved for an older Thom, not this one, not then.  I left a few friends there but they too made it home.  I met them both at San Francisco Inter- national Airport some months later and caught up on what was happening.  They both missed TET by days.

It's funny the memories you have about some things.  Though I can remember almost every second at Ap Dong I also have a vivid memory of this Viet Army guy in his late 40's we used to meet on the drive out to Ap Dong.  He was 5 ft nothing tall and his M-1 Garand rifle was almost as big as he was.  He ran a road block at this junction in a small vil and he used to move the obstacle from the road to let us by.  He was there every Sunday and always with a smile.  I have a slide of him I'll post when I can.  I have to wonder what became of him.  Did age kindly take him before the fall of the Saigon government or did he suffer in a Communist Re-education camp? 

We stopped at Kadina AB (Okinawa) for two hours where I made a few calls and had some coffee with mates, well they had coffee, I drank a gallon of real milk for the first time in a year.  Most of my Tech School class had gone to Yakoda Air Base in Japan and were transfered to Kadina when I went to Nam. I had put in a short TDY there once when they moved in the A-12 hypersonic recon planes. 
The A-12 and its fighter version, the YF-12a was the aircraft on which the SR-71 is was based.  On May 30th they had started recon flights out of Kadina. 

The last part of the flight was a long one and we were supposed to stop at Pearl Harbor but the pilot announced that we had had 125mph tail wind all the way across the Pacific and we could make Travis without refueling.  We watched the islands go by the left side of the plane.  Too bad I thought, I wanted to stop there.  I finally did make a stop over there in August 1988 at 2am. Just took me 21 years to do it.  Oddly enough in the many trips I have made across the Pacific I only stopped there in daylight on March 29th 1993.  I cleared customs there from Australia.

The stews on the flight had a slight problem.  You had a bunch of guys who hours before had been stressed out in a stressed out place and now they were stuffed into a long tin can with some young and attractive round eyed woman.  Such a sight was not to be seen for the last 12 to 18 months for too many of the guys.

One of the tricks they had to maintain good order on the plane was to go around and swipe the brass off of the GI's.  This one blonde got my hat brass if I remember correctly.  A while later, and I don't remember how I did it, I ended up sitting with her in the stews' seats in the back.  All these dudes were waiting in bogus lines for water or what ever just to get a look at the stews.  Nam guys were good at waiting in lines for just about everything.  Hurry up and wait.....

We talked for hours and about all kinds of stuff except the Nam.  I asked her out for dinner on her next run to San Francisco and she accepted but she never called.  Maybe if I had told her I was a skydiver it might have made a difference?  Nahhh... never worked before....

We landed at Travis AFB where my friends Sgt. Gary Havens and his wife Dee were waiting to pick me up.  The customs gig was loads of fun and the guy opened my camera bag and pulled out all my 35mm Pentax stuff and my Mamiya C-3 camera outfit.  I thought I was going to pay through the nose in custom duty but he just wanted to handle it.....  "Great stuff!!....... next!"  I lucked out there.

I thought I was home free till this Major grabbed me and a couple of dozen other guys who just passed customs.  He lined us up against the wall and yelled "all you men are out of uniform!" (I had no brass on my hat)  "they got ya good huh?"  He laughed and said "welcome home boys, there's a clothing sales store next door, good luck.  Those of you who are processing out of the Air Force get on the bus and you'll be out by 5pm, you can stay the night in the transit barracks if you like, but remember your not a civilian till midnight tomorrow night either way.  Army and other services, the Army bus to Oakland is outside.  If you've gotten your discharge already I never saw you get on the bus.  It will get you to Oakland airport for free."  I wonder what ever happened to that butthead Major, I'd like to give him a hug.

When we finally got to the transit lounge, my friends were waiting for me.  At Hamilton I checked into base and put in for a leave to go home to NJ about 10 days later.  I got out of the Nam 9 days earlier than I planned and needed to kill some time before meeting a lady friend from Oklahoma, Suzanne Inciardi.

I got back up to Travis somehow and caught a hop to Dover AFB (Del.).  I was getting good at finding hops and enjoying the trip.  This time the C-124 had 10-12 GI's on leave and some cargo.  I changed out of my 1505's and into some fatigues and slept half the way to the East Coast on top of some cargo pallets and ate three of the box lunches.  There was plenty left over so they didn't care.  They were better than the food in Nam so I didn't mind at all.  Oddly enough while I was in the base greasy spoon at the Dover AFB transit terminal, an old friend from high school and the Civil Air Patrol, Bob Patterson walked in the door!  I didn't even know he was stationed there.  A year earlier on the train from Altus to NJ I also ran into a guy I knew from Lowry!  Small world! 

The "Spoon" was also the GI ride station and I caught a ride from two Airman on base to Perth Amboy, NJ. They dropped me off at the railroad station and I took the New York & Long Branch RR to Allenhurst. 

I got home, then went to the Ford dealership in Asbury Park and picked up a brand new 1967 Falcon.  I was at Lakewood the first day I could (family stuff and all, plus Suzanne's visit) and knocked off a couple of jumps and a couple more the next saturday.  The first day's jumps were from the NORSEMAN I made my first jump from ("Red Lead", which was now painted blue and white).  The weather was warm and comfortable at altitude and I jumped without a jumpsuit for the first time.  The students thought I was some kind of great expert or a chosen one not having to wear all the official cloth!  I guess I looked like a jumping James Dean with a big smile, Jeans, French boots, jeans and a tea shirt from Nam that said "As I walk thru the Valley of death I fear no evil, because I'm the evilist son-of-a-bitch in the Valley!".  (I wasn't trying to be a bad-ass with the shirt, it was the only clean one I had that morning!)  Still no swooning females though.  I wonder if the tea shirt scared um away?  Still, that James Dean thing should have had some effect??? 

I ended up doing all my jumps that day with two Brits, Bill Hemmell UK/D-367 and Bob Friet UK/D297.  The next weekend they had us jump the Cessna 180 all day so the Norseman could fly all students loads. I jumped with Bill Hemmell again and Wally Dorris C-3943.  We got some nice 40-45 sec delays and some good relative work that weekend.  Remember that REL jumps were called fun jumps then and serious jumps were style and accuracy jumps. I disliked the 180 even with the pop-up door compared to the Norseman where I actually had a seat to sit on and an open door with a good view and cool breeze.

Bill had a funny way of exiting the Norseman sometimes.  The door on the Norseman was bigger than most for the day but not great for tight multiple exits.  On two occasions he jumped from the door 6 to 8 feet to the strut!  (Go back to the photo of the Norseman on the first page and you'll see how far it was AND remember that he was wearing something like 50 pounds of gear!) He would be followed by someone doing the same and while they hung there one or two of us would be in the door or actually out the door standing on the step.  We went first and they just dropped off the strut.

Time was short after Suzanne had to leave for home and I had to get back to San Francisco.  I set out in the new car for California with my guns, parachutes and 4x5 view camera gear that I ordered from Viet Nam for school when I got out of the service.  I stopped at several DZ's along the way but none were open.  I guess I could have timed it better.

I drove straight across to Denver and stopped at Lowry AFB before I crossed the Rockies for San Francisco, but with no one there I knew, it was just a place.  My car was fully loaded but it only had a 170hp engine and I couldn't get over Loveland Pass (no tunnel then). I drove back to down Rt 6 to Golden (I-70 or the Eisenhower Tunnel wasn't built yet) and headed south on I-25 to Santa Fe and stayed in Albuquerque.  A waste of at least a day.  If I had used my head or knew something about Colorado I would have detoured over to South Park and the two low passes, down into the Arkansas Valley and over Monarch Pass but I took the famous Rt. 66 instead, across Arizona and the California desert (at night) to Ventura where Hermann Vogel, a guy I'd known since I was 3, lived.  After a day or so and a guided tour of Brooks Institute (Herm had also gone there), I headed up 101 to Hamilton AFB for my best year in the service.  There's a side of me that wishes I hadn't taken that leave time to New Jersey, it was so good at Hamilton.  There is also a side of me that regrets getting out of the Air Force but you can't rerun the experiment.

Once there, same procedure.... Hit the parachute loft to find the DZ's and any jumpers.  There were 20+ para-rescue jumpers on base (including a Congressional Medal of Honor winner) but according to the loft NCOIC I was the only skydiver.  I had a slight problem with a few of these para-rescue guys.  They were gung-ho which is fine but one gave me a hard time at lunch one time when I was in my blues and had my Vietnamese jump wings on and no U.S. Airborne wings.  I let him have his fun and he left.  It was odd that I was the only skydiver on base, all the others had at least a couple.

The loft people turned me onto the Travis AFB club and my eyes went all sparkly at the thought of free jumps every weekend for the next year (and no wind problems like Oklahoma) but it wasn't to be.  The Travis club drop zone was at Yolo County Airport near Davis, over an hours' drive north.  The airport was an old World War II fighter defense base and there were all these round disks of concrete along the taxi way and at the ends were the fighters were kept.  The base was completely gone, not an original building left.  A walnut processing plant was now about mid-runway with these three huge piles of hulls.  Once a friend and I decided to land in the piles for the hell of it and have super soft landings.  Boy was that a mistake!  The inside of the piles were soggy and I was up to my armpits in this crap.  I had to have my reserve dried and repacked, and my blue Pioneer Jumpsuit dry cleaned and that was expensive on base then!  57 cents!  We got back to the DZ smelling all to hell!  Funny thing was we were so preoccupied with my little problem I forgot to log my jumps that day.  I drove back to Base in a bathing suit!

The Base club shared the DZ with the former Lincoln Paracenter which had moved from its former home north of Sacramento in late 66.  The DZ had nice packing tables and a trailer home office all on a concrete aircraft parking pad.  There was no shade or cover but a damned good pea pit was 50-60 yards away.  The DZ aircraft was a Cessna 182 with a pop-up door.  I had my 1952 C-8 yellow Hustler in my MT-1 harness/container and my B-4 with that "new" 1958 C-9 Quarter-Panel that I got at Altus, both had 52 inch Hustler modifications. (the usual cuts were either 48" or 52"'s from the apex)

After getting back from New Jersey, I finally got up there on Aug. 22nd and put my first jump at Yolo on the Yellow Hustler in the MT-1 from 7500'.  I had decided to try and get into serious style and accuracy competition and did a good series followed by a nice soft landing (well, soft for then).  I grabbed the new Hustler in my old B-4 and went up again for another 30 second delay and another couple of series.  (A competition series was a left turn, right turn, back loop, right turn, left turn and back flip) I pulled the chain at 2500 feet and started to work to the target when I was suddenly hit by another jumper still in freefall who went low!!! 

Fortunately only his feet and knees hit the canopy and it didn't collapse despite a violent rock.  It did, however, have some gaping tears in it.  My other harness (the MT-1) had shot and a half capewells but this one (the B-4) didn't, it had "two-shots" (photos below).  Brand new reserve and I had to use it!  What a bitch, repacks cost $3 then!!! (or $2 at the base)

"Two-Shot Capewells"

Inflated on the ground back at Hamilton AFB, the canopy is badly and terminally damaged.  You can see where the other jumpers' two legs caused two distinct damage areas.  The canopy probably could have set me down safely and possibly softer than the reserve did.  The C-9 went to cheapo-heaven and the only time it was ever used again was as a sail!  Notice the pucker band in the apex, which the candy stripe C-9's didn't have.

The procedure of the day was hand deploy (no reserve pilot chutes), only the pigs were doing cutaways.  I hand deployed the 24' ripstop canopy perfectly feeding out the canopy and shaking the skirt to let it catch air and then feeding the lines.  After it inflated, the two canopies were fighting each other and besides getting bounced about I couldn't steer.  I decided to dump the main and ride the reserve down.  The procedure was to open the two covers, then grip the two capewells and open them slightly till you were sure they were both free, then you jerked them forward to release the main.

Though reserves of the day were mostly unmodified, we were taught some steering using slipping techniques. (Note: one of the fun competitions back at Lakewood was an unmodified canopy accuracy meet!  You could use a sleeve but you had to jump a flat circular canopy of any type, unmodified or with no factory cuts in it.  Most used C-8's or C-9's and I actually saw a C-11 used once.  The meet was a combination of spotting accuracy and skill in slipping and sliding an unmodified canopy.  This did have a duel purpose, you polished your spotting skills, which are a lost art today, and you learned how to steer your reserve to a safe area if you ever had to use it.)

After I dumped the main, I got my first big surprise when I started to have some very bad oscillations, common for a small unmodified canopy then.  I had to constantly pump the lines to keep stable but when I was about to land I let go to set up for a PLF and the canopy did a violent swing.  I landed almost flat on my back and was out for a minute or two.  All I remember is seeing the landscape suddenly change angle and a split second later I'm looking up at all these people looking down at me.  After I confirmed I was sore but alive the usual shit started, "if he's dead I get his French boots! Dibs on the other rig!" but no one wanted the reserve. Who can blame them.  I hung it up for the day and came back the next morning for some more jumps. I would have gone right back up with the other rig but the DZSO said to go home because of the little nap I just took.  I doubt if I took a head injury, I just had the wind knocked out of me but good. I did a good steering job and landed about 50' from the peas, too bad I didn't get in them, it would have been a much better landing. My spotting was so good I actually was on the wind line for the peas but for some reason the occultation threw me to the left. 

I got tired of the 85 min. drive to Yolo real quick and found some thing in Skydiver Magazine about Z new DZ called Schellville.  One California road map later and I found it was only a half an hour from me!  It was, however, a bandit DZ.  I say "bandit" because all DZ's in California had to be licensed and I didn't know this one wasn't.

When I first got to Hamilton I started to date a couple of WAFs on base, Lois Small and Kathy Flynn.  Both were interested in jumping.  Kathy was the more interested and went with me to Yolo from the second time on but we had a big problem.  "The Fair Kathy" was about 5'5" and 40-25-34!!!  We couldn't get any of the harnesses at Yolo to fit her correctly!  In a way it was funny.  She drove this little white Triumph and with her chest she looked like this fat chick driving this little car till she got out and you saw her real proportions.  She went with me to Schellville on Labor Day the 4th of September.

The airport was a small one but OK and the center was just a small tent by some small metal hangers.  The DZ was a huge horse field surrounded by a white picket fence with a canvas X in the center.  The jump plane was a Cessna 206 in nice condition.  I signed up for a load and expected to do a nice 6-way but no one wanted to.  First pass we put out 2 students and then climbed to 7500' and the four of us bombed out.  There was 2 other guys and a gal.

In the air I watched the couple holding together and the third jumper off to my far right.  At about 3000' the gal suddenly broke off and the dude went after her.  I opened and watched the rest from the harness.  He finally caught her at 1500' and I saw him go in and grab her ripcord and pull it.  When he pulled it, she did a violent spin and kicked him in the face, knocking him out.  He went limp and hit the ground on his side, his main and reserve shot out about 15-20' in each direction from the impact.  I'll never forget the force that those two canopies had coming out.  There was some line stretch but the reserve was fully stretched out as was the main's sleeve.  The other jumper in the air with me got to him first and declared him gone by the time I got over there.  The lady he jumped with made a bad landing and hurt a leg or ankle.  Kathy was standing at the white fence and she saw the guy go in closer than anyone else.  She never went to the DZ with me again.

The State Highway Patrol and the County Coroner showed up.  That's when I found out that it was a bandit DZ and that most of the guys there were in the Navy.  I gave the officer my statement and when he asked me if I was in the Navy too I said no and left it at that.  He never took my address so it never went any farther than that as far as the Air Force was concerned.  I was back at Yolo 5 days later. 

I also found out that the Navy guy that bounced was the gals' lover and it was her first jump.  She was supposed to make a static line but they couldn't find it.  (The police found a basset hound tied to a tree with it!)  He then took her up for what could have been the worlds' first AFF!

Kathy got out of the Air Force in May 68 and I lost track of her a year later.  I kept in touch with Lois till 72 and recently found her again on the internet after 31 years!  We now write.

After the new quarter-panel was damaged in the mid-air, I got a brand new, just surplused 28' Navy C-8 (7 years old and all white) from Lyle Cameron (early aerial cameraman and publisher of SKYDIVER Magazine) for $20!  I took it to the Travis AFB parachute loft (where our club rigger worked) to be cut to a Hustler.  He told me that they were now putting four control lines on them (connected to two toggles) and the results were amazing so I said go ahead.  I also had him make the cut 48" (48" from the apex) instead of the hotter and more painful 52" cut.

I got it back the next weekend, put it in my MT-1 harness & container and took it up.  He was right, it was amazing!  I jumped with a dude with a PC and my turns were as fast and much more stable than the PC's.  I got a "Dead Center" my first jump on the canopy!!  You got perfectly flat turns for 450 degrees before you got any swingout! The yellow hustler (also a C-8) would be a back up rig from then on in case I didn't have time to repack the 4-line Hustler.

The next weekend Stu Prakin invited me to try the Livermore DZ (now the California Parachute Club) east of San Francisco.  I was looking for some place closer to jump and it looked closer on the map.  It turned out to be shorter mile wise but much longer time wise driving through Frisco plus you had tolls on the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges.  I got there late and made one of the last loads.  It was a 2 plane mass load and I was in a 1927 Fairchild Model 71.  To make a long story short I was 5th in a 14 man.  There was no target to speak of but the new Hustler got me exactly where I wanted.  It was Dec 31st and we partied for the New Years.

Like the Norseman, the Fairchild 71 had a 600hp radial engine and carried 10 jumpers.  It had a two blade propellor vs the Norseman's three blade prop.  The 71 could get a full load of jumpers to 12,500' in 16 minutes from a sea level drop zone and it was the preferred aircraft of the US Team for many years.  It was lower to the ground than the Norseman and easier to get into and also had a slightly bigger door.  The aircraft in the photo belonged to Dan True and Dave Steves. 

On January 31st the Base went on alert and all officers and NCO's were to report to their staging areas in full gear.  We were told that the night before, the Viet Cong had launched a major offensive from one end of the country to the other.  Hamilton was mainly an ADC or Air Defense Command Base (F-101B's) protecting San Francisco and the numerous military bases there. All leaves were canceled in case the Soviets used the opportunity of the massive disruptions in SEA to attack the mainland USA.  All our F-101B's were loaded for bear, including the nuclear tipped "GENIE" air-to-air missile and pilots of the 76th FIS Sqd. lived in the hurry house 24 hours a day.

In the first 36 hours "Charlie" had attacked over 100 cities and captured 36 Provincial Capitals, assaulted the various Embassies in Saigon and took part of Ton Son Nhute.  The Base and parts of Cholon were cut off and the 11th Armor had to "relieve" the Base after 2 days, including my old 1200 Area which held out but took heavy fire. 

To the north in the Ashaw Valley, the siege of Kha Son lasted 77 days and it took 25 days to retake Hue.  A small VC/NVA Regular force that tried to take the US Embassy in Saigon on the first day and were killed to the man.  19 bodies were recovered included an opposite number of mine who was to film the surrender of the American Ambassador.  His East German film stock was captured and developed by the 600 Photo Sqd. on Ton Son Nhute AB.

I had taken up my secondary post as a "Nuclear Disaster Control Specialist" but was stood down after 5 days and went back to the photo lab. A day later I was sent to the flight line with all my gear (Photo) to cover the transfer of weapons from the Base.  I blazed away with a 120 sized Graflex XL camera as a C-130 landed and the entire stock of M-16's and M-60 machine guns on Base with all ammo and accessories were loaded on the plane and replaced with WW2 M-1 carbines, magazines and ammo.  Our former weapons were flown to Travis AFB, transferred to a C-141 and were in Viet Nam within 35 hours to replaces combat losses.  A couple of weeks later we had to requalify with the carbines on the range.  I fired "expert" as usual scoring 289 out of 300.  I always did better with the M-1 Carbine than the M-16 and I always lost points on the standing-rapid fire phase.

It was a month before I could get off base (on a weekend) and up to Yolo where I arrived for the last load and did a nice series and a 30 inch landing (accuracy).  Most of the military guys at the DZ were conspicuously missing that day.  When I got back I was told that a friend in Nam tried to get a hold me of on the WATTS line.  He had been doing a documentary on Hill 425 (Marble Mountain) at DaNang and was caught up there for 22 days.  He had tried to reach his girlfriend but no one was home and he wanted me to let her know he was OK.

The next four and a half months was uneventful and I made my last jump(s) in the service at Calistoga.  Calistoga was at the end of a box canyon at the end of the Napa Valley.  It had a very big DZ right on the airport, which also served as the glider school, town bus station, pool hall and airport.  It was actually right in the center of this small village.  What was funny was that the mountains on both sides of the

valley (and it was tight) were above opening altitude!  They told us if your stop watch and altimeter fails, just open when your even with the hill tops on both sides of the valley.

The reason I remember this place was that it was the first time I had actually seen any of Dan Abbott's "Tracker LoPos" and they all had "Hooked-H" modifications.  It looked like there was a lot of material missing but they actually came down slower than the 5-TU that I had in Oklahoma!  My White Hustler got me in the sand pea pit every time that weekend.

It was a funny sand too.  At Lakewood when you repacked, you always got some powdered sand in the rig and it trailed what looked like smoke when you opened.  Same here.  It was a very soft fine white powder (finer than Lakewood) and you smoked on opening.  In the long run it was like sand paper and bad for the canopy unless you were neat and tidy packing. 

Rel work was not big there and most of my jumps were style and accuracy.  If you did anything with someone else it was considered a  "fun-jump" .  My last jump in Northern California was a "work" jump.  I had my series down to 9.4 seconds.


Jumping in College

This page last updated on 29 November 2000